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Out-of-towners urged to stay away from southwestern Ontario beaches

People are being urged to avoid southwestern Ontario beaches outside their home residences as the province continues its battle with COVID-19.

Beaches fall under the same category as parks, but officials encourage people to remain in their zones

Elgin County's warden, Tom Marks, is asking those who do not live near beaches like Port Stanley to stay at home. (Photo courtesy of Donna Currie)

If you don't live near the beach, stay away.

That's the message from elected officials in southwestern Ontario who are hoping to curb gatherings and visitors from outside their regions.

"The province has asked us all to stay home, so unless you live down by that beach, you shouldn't be there," said Tom Marks, warden for Central Elgin, which includes popular warm-weather spot Port Stanley. 

On Saturday morning, signs reading 'Beach Closed' were posted at Port Stanley's Little Beach. Barricades were placed across the municipal parking lots as well.

Provincial beaches fall under the same category as parks, under the province's new guidelines for outdoor recreation. The public can take socially distanced walks along the water with members of their own household, but cannot linger and congregate.

Marks said the decision to close beaches was made prior to the government's new public health measures announced on Friday that include extending the stay-at-home order already in place to six weeks and adding new restrictions to outdoor activity.

"We're not chasing people down and finding them, but the consistent message from public health is to stay home unless you're going for essential services," he said.

"People walking on the beach, as long as they're social distancing, that's all we can ask. I think that the message is coming from the health unit telling people to please stay home, and we're just trying to follow those guidelines."  

'We're asking people to stay safe'

On Lake Huron, Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber is also telling prospective beach-goers to follow provincial rules.

"We're asking people to stay safe and follow the provincial orders," Weber said. "I don't believe the province has said that the public has to stay in their zone, but we'll get through this a lot quicker if people do that." 

Weber said he's frustrated with the small percentage of people who disregard public health guidelines. 

"Whether they're non-believers or think they won't catch this, those are the ones who are causing us to still be in a lockdown, in my opinion," said Weber. "Those are the folks we need to get the message to, that if they want this to go away, they need to behave for awhile." 

Ontario backtracks on park ban

New outdoor restrictions laid out by the Ontario government on Friday include the closure of golf courses, tennis and basketball courts, skate parks and baseball diamonds. Picnic tables have been closed off, and outdoor gatherings between members of different households is prohibited, unless one person living alone joins another household. 

The province swiftly changed gears following community backlash on banning parks in its new public health measures. Pictured is Oakridge Optimist Park in London, Ont. (Submitted by Cindy Burfoot)

On Saturday, the province reversed its ban on provincial playgrounds following confusion around the new measures. 

"Ontario's enhanced restrictions were always intended to stop large gatherings where spread can happen," Ford tweeted. "Our regulations will be amended to allow playgrounds, but gatherings outside will still be enforced."

The City of London tweeted a confirmation on Saturday that city playgrounds are open. 

"Our playgrounds are no longer required to be closed. Take good care if you do attend a playground. Follow all health precautions," read the Tweet. "Maintain physical distance. If you aren't feeling well, stay at home. Enjoy safely and responsibly."

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